Our previous article discussed that objects don't have colors themselves, and color is perceived when visible light interacts with an object. When white light passes through a solid geometric shape, all the visible spectrum is projected on a surface, and we see a combination of wavelengths that are reflected and not absorbed by the surface. However, when all visible wavelengths of light are reflected off the surface, we see color White.
In terms of Spectral Colors, White and Black are not colors; however, White is arguably considered a color with no associated hue, an achromatic color. Then, White is described as all colors of the visible light (white light) with no designated color family (hue). So in technicality, White is a color but in visual perception, White means a lack of color.
This article will discuss the cultural and emotional associations with the color White, the relationships between White and chromatic colors and how White can influence our perceptions, associations and visual and emotional interpretations of an architectural space.
White: Cultural & Emotional Associations
Colors don't have a direct cause/effect relationship with how we feel, but rather there is a conditioning association between colors and our emotions. However, colors don't directly impact our physical state of being, mood and even emotions.
For example, color Blue does not necessarily make us feel calm, and color Red does not suddenly make us feel passionate. Instead, our feelings are associated with colors through repeated linking and associations constructed by cultural and social references. Repeated linking of a color with an abstract idea conditions the brain to associate the color with that concept. These associations can be positive or negative and contradict each other across different cultures, leading to unique social and cultural bias and symbolism of colors. Colors carry symbolic messages that, with repetitive associations, become a part of our perceptions, feelings and emotions.
Some feelings about the color White come from natural associations of the color with our surroundings. For example, snow is white and pure, so we may associate White with purity and cleanliness.
Other associations are cultural symbolisms. In Western culture, we often associate the color White with simplicity, minimalism and innocence. In Japan, White represents inexperience, while White is a symbol of death and mourning in China. All colors, including White, are perceived through interactions of visible light and objects, and each color carries intangible weights of cultural and social obligations and symbolism.
White: The Fondness For White In Design
Color is considered a non-characteristic physical property of an object; however, as discussed above, the feelings we associate with colors can often become an element of the object's character. In theory, color does not change an object's shape; however, as we learned in the article Colors & Visual Effects, colors can significantly manipulate or miscommunicate an object, including its shape and size.
Using concepts like Color Constancy, Similarity, Association and our brain's natural memory and encoding process, a designer can convey a strong emotional response in a color-free environment. The lack of chromatic colors in an architectural space indirectly triggers color analysis and concept associations.
In a color-free environment, objects don't clash with their surroundings. A chromatic color palette highlights the contrast between the positive and negative spaces while lack of color creates a transparent harmony of all forms and shapes in the space where "the whole is something besides the parts". The color-free space creates a cohesive experience while objects and forms in a chromatic color palette compete against each other to create a one-against-all architectural culture.
The color-free palette allows us to first experience the space's silhouette and the blankness and emptiness of the color White as the negative space becomes apparent to us. The lack of color heightens our other sensory organs, resulting in stronger and deeper memory recalling and associations. As the experience develops, all the space elements and the newly processed information are contrasted against previously registered information, events and concepts. These altogether shape the viewer's emotional response to the space.
In this experience, the viewer's emotional response is developed in its own right as the viewer chooses what to feel and how to perceive the space; pure, no distractions and no manipulation. The white of the interior reflects anything that's going on around it. In an architectural space with chromatic colors, the colors can limit the imagination, to some extent, to the boundaries of the exterior environment.
The more we add to a story, the less there is room for imagination. The more layers of a design we remove, the less there is to interfere, and so, the more authentic and deeper the experience of the design becomes. The absence of color makes us more attentive to everything else because the exterior environment is silent. We see more and we feel more. It is no longer about the design we see but the experience we gain. This approach to design focuses on the sum of negative and positive spaces rather than each of them alone.
Perhaps, we may think White means the lack of color, lack of clutter and lack of imagination. But as we discussed, White does not remove clutter. Rather, it creates space for opportunities and imaginations that are yet to be fulfilled.
This article was curated by Aidin Belganeh